A Respectful Salute to Datuk Abu Samah

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In the sporting country where most of the biggest figures in management are of the political scene, it is rather a rarity to see someone that is made upon different background. Datuk Abu Samah Abdul Wahab has proved that hard work and dedication could land you far in management.

He has proven it through his track record; not only that he has been there for a long, long time. At 77, he is looking at least two decades younger and more importantly, his burning passion to always improving the sports has never ceased away.

“Looking back at how I have been raised, it wasn’t always rosy. I was a cyclist growing up and while I was finishing school it was only meant furthering my education as well as cycling. It was unfortunate for me at that time as my father disagreed and insisted that I had the quality to follow his footsteps,” said the evergreen president of Persatuan Kebangsaan Berbasikal Malaysia (PKBM) as he slowly warmed us up with what looked to us like yet another cracking interview session.

We were sat there in the meeting room of a cozy three-storied building. It is quite rare to see the headquarters for an important sporting in the country to be based outside the bustling Kuala Lumpur. We have been anticipating the interview for quite some time now as he’s got a very great repertoire in the sport. But the way he welcomed us really changed our perspective. It was mind-blowing to be given such honorable reception by such a great presidential figure.

“I did eventually my father’s business. It was cruising great at that end of the business but one day some people were looking for me. I asked why and the answers they gave me were more surprising rather than uplifting. They wanted to give me the presidential position which is really great but I wasn’t ready at all.

“I eventually said no, but these people insisted. I had no alternative but for this one, so it was time for me to really think of it. At that time, I was young and inexperienced. You know the drill for a president; you need to get up and standout – be in the forefront. You needed to be very popular and have the influence to get the people hooked up to the idea. Eventually, sponsors will get to you if they believe in your ideas,” he added.

Turned out Abu Samah was right. His longevity is based on his well-thought moves and his leadership swagger. Just by talking to him, you’ll get the hang of what’s inside his mind. Sometimes he takes much longer to respond; in his mind, he’s arranging his words just to articulate his thoughts naturally. These qualities have not only been positioning him well in his presidential career now, it has also been fruitful for the more important thing – results on the track.

In his reign, many would think that Azizulhasni ‘The Pocketrocketman’ Awang’s Olympic triumph could be the biggest he has achieved now. But the man would think differently. “Setting up a good system for our cyclists and help them progress is the key. Their performance on the track is pretty much my responsibility so if that responsibility is being done well, I would be happy. That would give me a breathing space,” says the evergreen president.

And as the years pass by, not everything was a pleasure cruise for Abu Samah. He cuts a leader figure, very well in that area but not everyone has been liking it. The latest in his more than two-decades episode as the president of PKBM, his alleged rows with the National Sports Council has racked up attention from many sides. With a small grin on his face, he rubbishes the fact that he had done this to maintain his personal interest.

“I think my reign started off with a lot of difficulties. At first, I have not had any support. I remember one person or two supporting me as I took up the job but you know the feeling when you are not really feeling the touch of the people you’d be hoping for. But looking bad at it, I’m glad that it started off that way. Had I not experienced that beforehand, I might not last this long here now. You need to consider that too.

“Professionally I think both me and National Sports Council (NSC), we want the best for this sports. Clashing ideas and opinions is very normal on this side of the sports but I hold no bad remarks about them. Of course, it is hard for us to continue operating as we were with the budget cutting and all of that but we’ve learned to be independent before and this is the time for us to continue doing that,” he said.

It is refreshing to see such an experienced personality being so optimistic and still carrying the highest hopes for his job. This is the man that holds his work very highly and also possessing an unbelievable work ethic, which explains the position he’s in now and the respect he earns from everywhere. The proof is he was always constantly searching for betterment both in his cycling venture and his business.

“It is a tradition where the main office should follow where the chief is based at. When I was starting out we barely had anything. I remember having one staff, a desk and a chair and that were it. Nothing fancy as you can see now. I’m grateful that around that time my business effort was booming so I didn’t mind sharing some of the fortunes from my business to PKBM. After all, it’s an effort and it requires a lot of sacrifices to get the ship steady,” he added.

Asked for his short-term and long-term project, he said that he takes thing one after another now. Abu Samah admitted he is happy that the organization is always improving, getting out of one loophole after another but they are far from settled. He dreams of having more stability and getting more funds for the riders especially the ones that they’re sending overseas to train. While admitting the desire that he’s got to see another special talent after Azizulhasni Awang to come out and set the scene alight, he knows very well that it cannot happen if they’re not serious in working towards that goal.

“There are a lot of things to be considered right now. More than ever. We are working hard to get the standards of races in this country to go up a few levels, providing top class facilities for our cyclists and many other things that would be beneficial for everyone. Being in this part of the industry, people want nothing but the result and result is the thing that we must show them,” he said.

Right after having a conversation with Abu Samah, you’d know the natural ability he’s got especially in leadership. Like any other leaders, he knew very well that he’s got some disadvantages from his side too. But that doesn’t stop him and at 77-year-young, this wisdom-dropping man doesn’t look like he is stopping anytime soon.

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